It’s a skill shortage, dummy, not a labour shortage…

Recently unions have been griping about ex-expatriate workers being brought in to complete transmission gully. They really ought to be more in tune with the labour market.

Employers need to satisfy strict requirements to bring in workers from overseas. When supporting work visa applications, employers have to show Immigration New Zealand that they have made a “genuine attempt” to recruit locally. And the folks at Immigration New Zealand are no pushovers. They frequently challenge applications based on the nature of advertising, the recruitment processes, and the extent of the advertising. They also ask about the employer’s training programmes to reduce reliance on overseas workers. They ask why an existing staff member cannot be trained into the role.

But this issue is not about labour shortage. It’s about skill. You don’t put a kid who just came out of college in charge of a 5-tonne grader. You don’t put them behind a $400,000 truck and trailer unit with a client’s freight also worth $400,000 and ask them to negotiate Tauranga’s rush hour traffic.

Employers need staff to be at a basic level of skill before they train them for a specific job.

Unfortunately, this often means they will need to recruit from outside of New Zealand.

In the Immigration Objectives set by the Government one is to achieve knowledge and skill transfer. You can’t achieve that without recruiting skilled and experienced people Often that necessitates recruiting offshore.

People are asking why employers can’t train up Kiwis. A better question is: what is the current education system doing to get young New Zealanders work-ready? And what incentives are employers being given to train? Should employers be expected to make up for the inadequacies of our existing education system, which delivers school leavers qualified in nothing, and of no use to the 21st century employment market?

Many other countries have education systems that allow high school students to embark on vocational training in their last two or three years of schooling. There is active engagement between the education system and businesses. Young people acquire experience and skills to help establish careers (and direction) early on. Let’s face it: young people are exposed to a great deal more in the world than they were 50 years ago. So, why are we not also exposing them to work, career options, and experience a lot earlier in the education system?

If we provide young people with vocational experience (and I don’t mean for an hour every Thursday as part of “Social Studies”, as it was in my day), we will open paths up for students whose talents lie outside the academic environment.

We should be asking: how are we training and upskilling our own workforce to take on the challenges of infrastructure growth? And how are we incentivising employers to train their own staff?

So, stop griping about needing to hire skills from overseas. After all, it’s likely to be the reason your ancestors came here in the first place.

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